Genes Distinguish Rare Long Survivors of Advanced Melanoma

Although the chances of surviving advanced melanoma are not very good with current therapies, some patients can live for years with melanoma that has spread beyond the skin to other organs. Now it may be possible to identify which patients are more likely to survive by analyzing the activity of hundreds of genes involved in the immune response and gene proliferation, according New York University Langone Medical Center scientists and collaborators. In a new study, the researchers used DNA microarray technology to find 266 genes associated with shorter or longer survival among 38 patients whose melanomas had recurred after being surgically removed. Such genetic information may someday help decide the best course of treatment for patients with advanced disease. "If we could actually understand what was happening in those patients, within the tumor itself, perhaps we'd be able to help them in terms of what therapy they might go on," said Dr. Nina Bhardwaj, the study's senior author. The collaborative study, led by graduate student Dusan Bogunovic, provided some hints about the underlying mechanism of melanoma. "We found that patients who survived longer had gene activity consistent with an immune response," Dr. Bhardwaj said. "Patients who didn't survive as long didn't have an up-regulation of those genes, but tended to have higher levels of genes associated with cell proliferation, suggesting that if your cells are growing more actively, the tumor is going to grow faster." She cautioned, however, that the study must still be validated with a much larger, independent group of patients. The study is to be published online in PNAS during the week of November 9. [Press release]
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